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Manslaughter United: A Season With a Prison Football Team

Posted on August 28, 2011 by samh

Manslaughter United: A Season With a Prison Football Team, by Chris Hulme (1999)

One of the best things about this interesting book is the deceptive title – at first glance, one thinks that this is just another book about a certain team at the top of the Premier League that wins things occasionally.

But the subtitle reveals a more sinister focus (although, given the ever-growing number of disturbing allegations in the tabloids, the subjects of prison and soccer are maybe not that far apart after all).

The author spent a season with the Kingston Arrows, a prison team which includes nine convicted murderers and two warders. Hulme accomplishes the difficult task of achieving the right tone, somewhere in between dark humour and serious journalism. He offers a real insight into of the mind of the prisoner, and shows how football can relieve boredom and give direction. The book is responsibly written, but not without wit: the point is made that, obviously, all games are at home, and someone says, “I bet they get loads of volunteers when the ball goes over the wall”.

Hulme deliberately leaves it quite a way into the book until he tells the reader just what the characters’ shocking backgrounds are. It is interesting that he describes the footballing qualities of the main players before he tells us what they are actually in for – which forces readers to see the prisoners in an unprejudiced light. Some chapters are written in the first person, with the prisoners themselves telling their own stories. At the very least, Hulme asks the reader to understand why they have offended, if not sympathise with them. The relationship between the prisoners and their warders on and off the pitch is also fascinating: the football pitch symbolises the only arena where all are equal – it is the one piece of grass which makes the prisoner feel he’s free for 90 minutes.

Given the nature of the book, it is perhaps not surprising that the language gets quite blue at times – but it is always very readable. Hulme is observant – at one point he notes that one of the inmates has “clean and neatly trimmed” fingernails – and it is nice touches like these which make this book rise above sensationalism. Instead, it is a really thought-provoking read.

Review by Sam Hawcroft

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